March 15, 2019
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day thrives on a new stage
by Michael Seidlinger
Ishiguro fans get treated well. From countless movie adaptations to a Nobel prize, their beloved author has thankfully received his due. Like many, I’m fascinated by Ishiguro’s
range, capable of going from a surreal and magical novel (An Artist of the Floating World) to a melancholic science fiction tale (Never Let Me Go). No matter the genre, he achieves something literary, a narrative undeniable in its link to the human heart. His work is brimming with compassion, and it makes sense that one of his most popular books, The Remains of the Day, went on to become an Academy Award-nominated film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, just as it makes sense to hear of it becoming a play.
Recently, playwright Barney Norris wrote for The Guardian about working with Ishiguro in translating the book for the stage. Naturally, there were some hurdles, with Norris discussing how the structure of the play came to him:
“I came up with the structure for my Remains of the Day in an unexpected moment, as my wife and I were leaving our flat to meet friends: I delayed our departure very briefly, and drew a picture on an envelope of two lines intersecting like a sequence of DNA; that was all I ever knew of how my play would work. It never became a verbalised idea.”
So true, that a story maintains its core no matter the medium with which it is told. It’s up to the writer to find the structure, or “shell,” from which the story is able to live. The story must thrive within new context. “A lot of stage adaptations are not very good,” admits Norris, “many fail to escape their source text, and allow events to plod on in more or less the same order in which they happened in the original book or film.”
It’s a difficult balance to achieve, and it’s worth taking into account the fan’s perspective, everyone that will go and see the adaptation. They have their own expectations, and they will inevitably leave with their own interpretation. “Like witnesses to a car accident, no two people will ever see the same play,” says Norris. Directed by Christopher Haydon, the stage version debuted on February 23, 2019, and has received positive reviews (The Guardian gave it four stars). It hits stages throughout the spring, culminating with a final performance on Tuesday May 21, 2019, in Bristol. Norris’s words ring true—the story becomes personalized the moment it is experienced and fans of Ishiguro get an opportunity to see a favorite in a brand new lens.
Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.